Dear Class of 2015

Graduations can come with mixed emotions. For someone in a job like mine or anyone who has a job working with students, it can feel difficult to watch students leave year after year while I stay put. But I'm reminded that graduations come with hope and promise, leaping into a new phase of life and transition into new places God is calling them.

So in the wake of graduation season, I have 5 pieces of advice for the class of 2015 (from the class of 2010).

1) You're entering another season of firsts 
Something I did a lot when I graduated was thought about every "last" I was going to have. The last time I attended class, the last Large Group, the last small group, the last time I'd visit Nautical Bean, etc. I was scared of "ending" but was missing how I was stepping into a new "beginning". Every transition has both its lasts and its first. Remember the first college class? Or the first paper you wrote? Or your first roommate that wasn't a family member? What comes with graduating doesn't have to be a series of lasts but a new season of firsts. This is exciting and scary but it's joyful to enter into a season where new things are happening. There are new jobs and new cars and new apartments and new friends and new cities. But this is the season where you'll experience holding your newborn for the first time or first becoming a member of a church or first getting that promotion at work. As you enter into this season, enjoy all the new things you'll get to do and looking back at college will be like remembering all the firsts you had then (rather than your lasts).

2) College friends change but that's not a bad thing
This was the scariest thing for me. It was difficult to reconcile everyone "leaving" each other to do new things. No longer would I live five minutes from my friends who I could call last minute to hang out. Our relationships post-college look different than they do during, but that's not always a bad thing. Some friends you'll grow closer to after you graduate, some friends will go in and out of your life but they feel like they are always there. However things will look during this time, remember that your friends from college have had an influence on your life. That's something to celebrate. And this is where you can be so grateful for technology - Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, FaceTime, texting, and the like to keep in touch with people who don't live down the hall from you any more. Plus you get to talk about things other than papers and homework. Grown up stuff like what you want to watch on Netflix after work!

3) This is the season you'll grow a ton
Transition can feel hard and scary. Transition can feel exciting and new! Whether going to grad school or the working world (or the unknown), you'll take on a lot more responsibility. Showing up late to class is a whole lot different than showing up late to work. But with this increased responsibility, there is a greater chance to grow. I used to think that all my "growing up" was done in college, but actually it was just a preparation for the intense amount of growth that has happened in this post college season. I learned much more about myself, about Jesus, and about community in this season.

4) Making new friends is hard 
I have a whole blog post dedicated to this but the short version is: it's kind of awkward to do. It takes a lot longer than it seemed to in college and that is ok. You'll make new friends. It will happen. As much as we want to live life like How I Met Your Mother or Friends it probably won't happen. But if you do live a above a coffee shop or a bar - I'm so coming to live with you.

5) It's ok if you don't have it all figured out 
It's easy to want to have your live nicely figured out when you graduate. But you may not know what you want to do. It make take a couple of jobs to figure it out. You may not be ready to do what you are called to do yet. It may take a couple of moves to find out where you want to live. This is the time to explore! Instead of stressing out about not having figured out your life, this is literally the time to doing the figuring it out. Submit yourself to Jesus and see where he will lead you. Just focus on one step at a time. Take risks, explore new places (even if you live in the same town, go to that new coffee shop or cupcake place), read books, blog, serve others, write, take photos - do things that bring you joy. This is the time to figure out what you are passionate about and how to let Jesus use that passion for his kingdom.


Who Am I: Part 2a (White Privilege: The College Years)

About a month ago, I sat down to write some personal reflections about race and reconciliation. I expected it to be an easy flowing process, but as it turns out I have more fear in sharing about tough topics than I thought. It was also difficult to take almost 9 years of processing about white privilege and white identity and filter than into a readable blog post.

As I looked through old reflections and journals, I found a reflection from a Sociology class I wrote during my sophomore year at Cal Poly, and I feel this sums up some of my experiences of interacting with white privilege as a young college student. Some background:  We did an activity called the Race Race - where our class was asked a series of questions about our lives (if our parents went to college, if we were raised by single parents, if we saw our gender or race represented in the media, etc.) that either allowed us to step forward or step backwards.
Here were my thoughts as a 20 year old college student from that activity and about white privilege as a whole: 

"In the privilege exercise we can see developing patterns of who has what. Many of us with privilege are born into it, not to say we don’t work hard to keep our status, but we were given opportunities to keep ourselves there. Many of us (not all) are white. Many of them at the very front (not all) are men. And some of us as we walk back to the classroom feel a sudden surge of guilt in the pit of our stomachs as we turn around to see some of friends and classmates far behind us. So why is this? The question we are asked is why do we feel guilty for our advantages? 

A lot of this white privilege comes from the communities we live in. Our own history has even widened the gap of available resources to white communities and those living in largely minority or people of color communities. Take for instance The Federal Housing Act of 1934, it had the possibility to bridge the racial gap that had been in existence since the formation of our nation. Millions of citizens were within reach of owning their own home by placing the credit of the federal government behind private lending to home buyers. However the overtly racist categories in the FHA’s “confidential” city surveys and appraisers’ manuals lead to the money being placed in the hands of white homeowners and stripped from communities of color.

And now look at the No Child Left Behind program. Instead of giving money into the schools that truly need it, they allow students to attend the schools that are performing better. Instead of providing opportunities for all in concentrates those in poverty so they all live in the same neighborhood, attend the same schools, and receive less opportunities. Not to say they can’t get to the same place as those wealthier than they, but it is inherently more difficult. It’s no wonder those of us who come from privilege homes feel guilty at times because we can see than there was a lot we did not do to receive that status. Of course we worked hard, just like anyone. But so did they, in fact, those who come from impoverished communities may have worked harder. 

I like how Booker T. Washington put it in his book Up From Slavery: “I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed... But out of the hard and unusual struggle through which he is compelled to pass, he gets a strength, a confidence, that one misses whose pathway is comparatively smooth by reason of birth and race.” Personally, I’ve received many blessings and opportunities from the life my parents wanted me to have. Here I sit, in a prestigious school earning something only 1 percent of the world can get: a college degree. I need not feel guilty of what I have been given and perhaps I am actually missing out on something when I don’t have to struggle as much to succeed.

But that doesn’t give me the excuse to ignore the needs of those below them. In fact, in order to break this cycle of institutional racism and oppression, it must start from the top. And that is where I think we who have privilege often fail, is we focus so much on personal success that we don’t give thought to our brothers and sisters below us, fighting to survive. And that is maybe why I feel guilty, because I haven’t done my part to help.

One of the big questions I wrestled with as a young college student (and even still to this day) was what to do with my already given privilege and how to feel about having it. It is one of the biggest questions I still often have to wrestle with to this day - especially as I engage with what it means to be both white and middle eastern but someone who looks white - I still "get" all the privilege that comes with being white in America. And it's easy to deny having it (or that white privilege exists) or to feel overwhelming guilty about it.

Neither is truly helpful, neither is truly beneficial. We don't determine our privilege when we are born but we can chose what we do with it. Learning how to engage with this is a circular process. Some days I chose well - I listen to others, I find great ways to steward my privilege, and I stay engaged with the struggles of my friends and neighbors. Some days I chose poorly and I check out, I speak too much (or not enough), and I live in fear or shame. Next week (or maybe month), I'll reflect on how to live out a life of stewarding white privilege well.

Note - for those not having interacted with the term "white privilege" before, I encourage you to read the articles listed below. They give a great description of what this looks like, how this influences our society, and even what to do with it: